Page 1

marketingmanagement

AT C-LEVEL

Marketing to the Misunderstood BY MICHAEL KRAUSS

 michael.krauss@mkt-strat.com

D

anah Boyd is an iconoclast. She’s a Gen Xer who’s nearly two decades removed from her own teenage years, but she has become an expert and consultant on teens’ social media and consumption habits. Her insights are academically founded and corporate-approved. She has been named a young global leader by the World Economic Forum. Fast Company named her one of the most influential women in technology. Fortune says that she’s a rising star and one of the 50 smartest people in tech. Companies such as Intel and Google have tapped her research skills—but she also has made some marketers less than thrilled because her work aims to disprove marketers’ beliefs about teens’ behaviors and about social media measurement. Now a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, founder of the Data & Society Research Institute, a visiting researcher at NYU and a research affiliate at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Boyd honed her analytical approach to the marketplace during her long stint in higher education. She earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in computer science at Brown University, a master’s in sociable media from MIT and a Ph.D. in information from the University of California, Berkeley. Her dissertation described the role that social networks play in everyday teen interactions and social relations. She went on to author two books— Hanging Out, Messing Around, and

36

Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media and It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens— and she now studies “the social and cultural dimensions of the ‘Big Data’ phenomenon, with an eye to issues like privacy and publicity, data (mis)interpretation, and the civil rights

implications of data analytics,” as she says on her website, Danah.org. Boyd has an impressive C.V., yet when I recently spoke with her in Chicago, she explained why marketers sometimes don’t enjoy her company: “There’s value in believing that what you’re doing is best. What I do is untangle what’s happening and show you how it’s not working.” Boyd contends that in most companies, teens really are misunderstood—and therefore that measuring marketing effectiveness may not improve in the Internet age because “the metrics are actually not telling you what you think they’re telling you.” In other words, the ways in which many companies are judging social media successes are inaccurate partially because they fail to take into account factors such as teenage culture, for example, which means that counting brand mentions and other such measures can paint a muddy picture, she says. Boyd cites her ethnographic research and observation of teens and their use of technology and social media. “I watch teenagers put brand names into Facebook posts because they’ve found a way of gaming the system,” she says. They’re leveraging Facebook’s practices that give precedence to brand-related content to get on their friends’ newsfeeds. Boyd has observed teens putting up posts such as, “ ‘Yo. What’s up, Nike?’” she says. “Teenagers have worked out that if they put those famous brand names in, it triggers the algorithm and shows their posts. If Nike happens to be working with Facebook, how relevant are the Nike references that Facebook reports? … If you think ‘Nike’ is naturally referenced, you are completely inaccurate.”

“Teens think a lot about privacy. … They care about who is ‘in their business,’ and how to protect themselves from those who are.” DANAH BOYD, MICROSOFT RESEARCH

MARKETING NEWS | FEBRUARY 2015

MN Feb 2015 1-65-edit1-21-15.indd 36

1/22/15 5:21 PM


marketingmanagement

Photo courtesy of Danah.org.

AT C-LEVEL

Boyd once was on a panel with a group of senior marketers at a conference, she says, and “the person from Coke was taking credit for all of the social media ‘likes’ and mentions of the Coke brand.” Boyd pointed out to the Coke rep—and to the audience in attendance—that many of those online references likely were code for illicit drugs rather than signs of affinity for the brand. “The audience laughed uncomfortably and the moderator moved on,” she says. For marketers looking to connect with teens in social media, Boyd’s advice is to respect both their desire to leverage social media as public forums and their need for privacy. “Teens have serious limitations

on how they can connect in the physical world. The online world provides the opportunity to be in public, but that doesn’t mean they want to be public,” she says. “Teens think a lot about privacy in terms of who holds immediate power over them: parents, teachers, employers, those kinds of actors. They care about who is ‘in their business,’ and how to protect themselves from those who are.” And for young marketers looking to advance their careers, Boyd offers this socially oriented advice: “Build as wide a network of people inside and outside your organization as possible. Learn how to move across both of these groups as seamlessly as possible. Bring

ideas from the outside to the inside,” she says. Also, “learn how to listen,” she says. “Have some level of humility. There’s a danger that young marketers will say: ‘I’m young. I know this technology. I’m brilliant.’ … Figure out how to identify the value of your newness because you are an outsider, and figure out how to move newness through the organization in a respectful and productive way without just plowing by everybody because you think you’re brilliant.” m MICHAEL KRAUSS is president of Market Strategy Group based in Chicago.

FEBRUARY 2015 | MARKETING NEWS

MN Feb 2015 1-65-edit1-21-15.indd 37

37

1/22/15 5:21 PM

Marketing the Misunderstood  

Danah Boyd is an iconoclast. She’s a Gen Xer who’s nearly two decades removed from her own teenage years, but she has become an expert and c...

Marketing the Misunderstood  

Danah Boyd is an iconoclast. She’s a Gen Xer who’s nearly two decades removed from her own teenage years, but she has become an expert and c...